Tribute To Coe Norton
A Tribute To Coe Norton – My magical mentor and dear friend
By John Tudor, from Linking Ring magazine
(See also Acting and Showmanship In Magic)
“The first time I ever saw Coe Norton work was at a magic lecture in New York. The one trick that has stuck with me the longest, since the early 1950′s, was a simple pocket trick involving an imaginary spool of thread. He had a large audience of 300 or 400 magicians, and the entire audience laughed and applauded. I was so impressed…Norton could make an entire production out of even an elementary little trick.” – Dai Vernon, He Fooled Houdini
We pay tribute to a dear friend of the magic world, Coe Norton. Actor, master magician, teacher, world traveler, Coe and his wife, actress Laura Lee Norton, enjoyed a long and successful career dedicated to the theater.
Coe started in magic at age nine, (acquiring the Mysto Magic Set) and learning tricks from his father, Guy Norton. After high school he left his home in Washington state to become a merchant sailor in the Orient, the start of a great love of ocean travel. Upon returning, he entered Carnegie Tech, (now Carnegie Mellon University) where he received the degree of A.B. in Drama. In WW II he was in Hawaii during the Pearl Harbor attack, seeing action on destroyers in the Pacific, retiring as Lieutenant Commander.
After the war, Coe went to Hollywood, where he worked with the prestigious Actor’s Laboratory Theater. While in the original cast of Lend Me An Ear, the star, Carol Channing, persuaded Coe to accept a teaching position atBennington College. He taught acting there for three years. In 1951 he came to New York, where among others he was in the original cast of The Andersonville Trial with George C. Scott, repertory at Lincoln Center, many seasons of summer stock, and over 400 performances on national network television, 70 national television commercials and numerous industrial films. He appeared on Omnibus, US Steel Hour, Naked City, Love of Life, Secret Storm, Harbor Master, True Story, Search for Tomorrow, etc.
“A conjuror is really an actor playing the part of a magician.” - Robert Houdin
Working with magician Jimmy Reneaux and others, Coe realized the possibility of an actor who could also do magic! The boyhood hobby of magic became the main direction of his career. He became quite successful as actor/magician, and starred in the Mandrake TV series, as well as many magic commercials including Viceroy Cigarettes, Thumbelina Dolls, Martinson’s Coffee, Nestle’s Chocolate, Cricket Lighters, etc.
During the 1958 tour of Auntie Mame Coe met his future bride, the successful actress Laura Lee, (a native of Columbia, SC) also a cast member. They were married in 1962, and became one of the world’s top performing couples. Once again Coe took to the sea, and he and Laura Lee toured the world on luxury ships; making over 240 cruises visiting 148 ports internationally.
The Norton’s also pioneered the use of magic in sales and business presentations. They eventually moved to Columbia, South Carolina to be near their beloved children and grandchildren, and resided there ever since. Coe lingered for some years afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease, and passed away in 1998. The Norton’s were known for their engaging personalities, and joyous affection for their work, for each other, and for the audience. Their performances were always original, faced paced and technically flawless.
Coe enjoyed the friendship of all of the world’s great magicians, and high honors and praise from the magic community for his performances and lectures. Considered a world class authority on magic performance, his monograph Acting and Showmanship in Magic is considered the definitive work on the subject. Past President of the Magician’s Guild of America, member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Society of American Magicians; Coe was always known by his willingness to teach and further the art.
All who knew Coe was charmed by his personal warmth, sincerity, and class: a true gentleman in every sense of the word. We of the magic community are privileged and proud to have had him be our friend.
“If this be magic, let it be an art.” -William Shakespeare, A Winter’s Tale
© 2009 John Tudor